Interest in embryonic stem cells revives

Michael Cook
4 May 2014
Reproduced with Permission

Interest in using stem cells from cloned human embryos has revived after success by scientists in the United States and Korea.

One group from CHA University in Seoul reported in Cell Stem Cell in April that it had managed to use cell nuclei from two men, aged 35 and 75, to create embryonic stem cell lines. And this week, the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute announced in Nature that it had created a line of cells from a woman with Type 1 diabetes.

There have been many false dawns in the field of embryonic stem cell research, but these results seem to confirm that it is possible to use adult cells to create genetically matched stem cell lines. However, the process is still ethically controversial, as researchers first create a human embryo and then destroy it to create stem cells. It also relies upon a supply of fresh eggs - which is potentially dangerous and exploitative. Nature adds that rogue scientists might implant cloned embryos into wombs to create cloned children, a possibility which is widely condemned.

Scientists are unlikely to rush into creating human embryonic stem cell lines. Even Nature agrees that, "The technique is expensive, technically difficult and ethically fraught. It creates an embryo only for the purpose of harvesting its cells. Obtaining human eggs also requires regulatory clearance to perform an invasive procedure on healthy young women, who are paid for their time and discomfort." However, some features of these cells are said to be superior to induced pluripotent stem cells, their main rival at this point. "iPS cells often do not become completely reprogrammed or may become warped during the reprogramming process, which could make them less stable," says Nature.